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Gentleness Lost

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I felt like I was back in kindergarten.

Here I was, once the compliant firstborn, peace-loving older sister, and well-trained pastor’s daughter — now a mannerly college student — and what was my constant prayer? Dear God, please help me be nice to Stan.

In all my twenty-something years, I had never met someone who could get under my skin the way Stan1 could. It didn’t matter that he was almost old enough to be my father, or that I liked and respected him as a fellow follower of Jesus. He might as well have been the aggravating older brother I’d never had, because he certainly knew how to push all my buttons.

I preferred an old-fashioned feminine reserve. He persisted in trying to drag me out of my "shell." He told tacky jokes. I told him off. He gave unwanted compliments. I bristled. He teased me outrageously. I rolled my eyes. Though I was sure he didn’t do it on purpose, he was still sarcastic and loud and hurt my feelings. And though it was the last thing I wanted, I grew sarcastic and loud, and hurt his feelings.

Where was all that gentleness I was so sure I had?

A cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.2

My experience with Stan was just another of the surprising jolts of adult life. I also found myself yelling at a younger brother who refused to do his math, responding sullenly to an employer, and facing off with my parents just when they most needed my support and understanding. I desperately missed the old mild-mannered me.

Gradually, God opened my eyes to what Jesus meant when He said, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart that which is evil, for out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth speaks." I was simply speaking out of the things that up until now had lain hidden in my heart: impatience, bitterness, and self will. And clearly, since all those noxious things were in there, they had to come out sometime, for my own good. But what about all the people who were getting burned as a result?

"The fruit of the Spirit is … gentleness."3

Now I began expecting be jolted, jarred, and tested. It was a start, but I still needed to fill my heart up with a deep inner reservoir of sweet, rather than bitter water. It comes, of course, from the great sea of gentleness to be found in my Savior. I’m learning that there are no refills to be found in "me" time, from which I come away fretful and selfish. However, if I spend time with Him away from the clamoring demands of myself, I come away rested and able to be more clearly aware of the needs of others. In the Bible, gentleness is characteristic of those who really see others: the shepherd who knows the limitations of the nursing ewes and tiny lambs while traveling, the high priest who understands the temptations of those he prays for, and God Himself, who is acutely aware of the sufferer and his need for consolation.

Gentleness flowers under protection.

My experience with Stan taught me an important lesson. If my father had been there, he would certainly have stuck up for me. Since he couldn’t protect me in this situation, I felt threatened and vulnerable, and tried to stick up for myself, with disastrous results. Finally, I learned that I’m able to be gentle, rather than argumentative or defensive, when I allow my Heavenly Father to be my defender. And He is always with me.

I recently came upon this comment made by an Israeli wife and mother. Read with an emphasis on belonging to and being backed by God, it provides rich food for thought.

[An Orthodox Jewish] woman is first of all ‘of ‘: She’s the daughter of, the wife of and the mother of, and this does not come out of any feelings of inferiority or oppressed status. On the contrary, I’m a feminist, I’m all for femininity … and as I see it, a woman, in order to preserve her femininity, needs backing from the male. A woman who takes everything on herself and thinks she’s independent — the price she’ll pay for having to deal with everything alone will be an added brusqueness. She has to become tougher, less sensitive, to cope. Being ‘of ‘ others creates a defense that protects my natural gentleness, which I love.4

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.5

In a culture that values strong, self-reliant, assertive heroines, gentleness sounds a lot more like weakness, laziness, and capitulation to bullying. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In English, the word gentle is descended from the Latin word for "family" or "clan," which came to mean a person from an aristocratic family. The powerful, it was assumed, were well-schooled in considerate behavior and knew how to avoid injuring the feelings of others.

In Greek, the word translated as meekness or gentleness is related to the training of a powerful horse.6 Anyone who has seen the dance of the Lipizzaner stallions knows the beauty of strength under such exquisite control. And it is the control, not of duty, bullying, or humiliation, but of love.

My dad is a fearsome soccer player. He loves a good debate. He’s passionate about his work, about his family, about God, and about right and wrong. This week, I watched closely when someone tried to cheat him out of about $300. All that passion was kept in check as he made measurements, listened to the arguments, and weighed his options. Once it became clear that it was a choice between his money and giving a picture of Jesus to the man who was despitefully using him, he willingly paid the difference. That’s a true gentleman.

The apostle Paul writes of "the gentleness and meekness of Christ."7 What did it look like? Jesus described Himself as set under the authority of His Father, yet He was the One before whom demons trembled and sickness vanished; the One who blasted into death and hell and left them forever vanquished; the One so compelled by love to lay down His life for us that He never called the ten thousand angels at His disposal.

God has given us women incredible influence over the men and children in our lives. It is possible for us to be manipulative, to nag, to tempt, to wound deeply. It is also possible for us to sit at the feet of Jesus and be compelled by His love to clearly see the needs of others, to rest in His protection, and to lay down our lives for others. And that’s true gentleness.

  1. Name changed
  2. Amy Carmichael
  3. Galatians 5:22
  4. Rivka Zilberschlag, Haaretz Magazine, April 25, 2008, p. 19
  5. St. Francis de Sales
  6. William Barclay, Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 158
  7. 2 Corinthians 10:1
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Elisabeth Adams has been blessed with four taller-but-younger sisters, three unquenchably quirky brothers, two adventurous parents, and one compelling Redeemer. All this has led to so many moves that she's never sure how to answer the question, "Where are you from?" But since 2003, she has spent much of her time in Israel: studying Biblical backgrounds, exploring, day-dreaming, crafting, travelogues, and helping other people write. Someday she might finish the books that are bouncing around in her head, but meanwhile she loves enabling friends at home to "see" the land that Jesus knew.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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Gentleness Lost

by Elisabeth Adams time to read: 5 min
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